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The Path Interview - Are Games Art?

bit-tech: One quote that gets passed around a lot in these kind of discussions is Roger Ebert’s view that games are not art because, essentially, the player takes an active role in creating the experience and that ends up devaluing the role of the artist and the art. What’s your opinion on that? How do you define games and art?

Tale of Tales: Well, as artists we tend to define art a little bit differently than critics and the public do. Perhaps it is a secret, or perhaps it only applies to some artists and not to others, but art, in our experience, is not about a person expressing his opinion in a beautiful way. Art is far more mysterious than that. Artists are observers. And art is about showing the world as artists see it. This implies that the artist may in fact not understand his own work entirely. Artists are sometimes like antenna’s that simply transmit messages for others to interpret.

Marcel Duchamp once defined art as some kind of electricity that happens between the work of art and the viewer. Note that the artist himself is absent in this definition. Enter interactive media. We believe that interactive media has the potential to produce the greatest art ever precisely because of this central role of the observer. Good art, to paraphrase Rilke, is art that looks at you and changes your life. Art is about the viewer! And what better way to involve the viewer than to give them an active role in the presentation?

The Path Interview - Are Games Art?

This does not mean that everything interactive is artistic. Far from it. In fact, so far, we agree with Ebert: the artistic quality in computer games is very low. But this is simply for lack of trying. Games are not created as artworks or by artists. They are shallow pieces of entertainment first and foremost. And as long as game designers treat them as such, Ebert will continue to be correct. You can’t make a game that is just for fun and then demand artistic recognition for it. You have to make art on purpose. That’s how it works.

Observing art is a playful activity. But its rules are a lot looser than those of most games because art is about the viewer. And video games tend to be a bit too forceful, too insistent on their own meaning and story. There’s not enough room for play in games to allow them to become art. Noby Noby Boy is a notable exception. It’s probably the first game that could be shown in an art gallery next to any contemporary artwork without feeling out of place. Not that art galleries should be the destination for art games.

The Path Interview - Are Games Art?

BT: The Path wasn’t just unusual in how it was developed either, was it? With the two of you journeying across America to launch the game from the hotel room where you first conceptualised The Path, do you think there was a touch of performance art involved in the release process?

ToT: We have always considered our work with interactive media, at least partially, as a form of performance art. When we were making websites in the past, we considered them to be 24/7 performances. As such, our own lives became part of the artwork. We’ve never made big distinctions between life and work, pleasure and business, etc. We are always on, always performing. It’s our life.

We started working and living together amidst enormous personal drama and we have never abandoned that sense of theatre. That doesn’t mean that everything real in our life is false. On the contrary: it means that the imaginary is true!

We launched The Path exactly ten years after we launched our first collaborative project on the very day we met in person for the very first time in a room in the very same hotel. It was a personal anniversary for us. But also a way to show the public that The Path was a project created by real humans with real lives and real emotions. We did not want to hide behind a pseudo-corporate façade.